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  The Story of the Pilgrims III:
The Crossing to America


The Pilgrims sailed first to Southampton, England, where they were to take on the Strangers, other Separatists from the Scrooby congregation who had stayed in England (this may be where Mills ancestors William White, Susanna Fuller White, and their son Resolved joined the party), and load supplies. The Mayflower joined them at this port.

At this point it was determined they were £100 short. Weston wanted the terms of their contract changed, but the Pilgrims objected, saying they could not agree to any changes without the input and consent of the Holland congregation. Weston flew into a rage, told them they were on their own, and walked off. The Pilgrims, in desperation, sold off some of their goods in order to raise money.

After many delays, the two ships finally set sail for America. However, the captain of the Speedwell soon signalled his ship was taking on water and they had to return to port and wait for the expensive repairs to take place. Once again they started out, but after getting into the Atlantic ocean the Speedwell again signalled it was in danger. The ships sailed back to Plymouth, where the captain of the Speedwell pronounced it unseaworthy. (Bradford and others believed the captain didn't want to take the risk of the ocean crossing and then starving with the colonists once they arrived, and so faked the leaking. The Speedwell later "made many voyages—to the great profit of her owners," so Bradford's assumption may have been correct.)

By now the Pilgrims were very distressed at the many obstacles they faced. It was September, they had very little money and had borrowed far more than they had ever expected, and now had to choose who would go on to America and who would stay behind. Some of the Speedwell's passengers transferred to the Mayflower, and on 06 September 1620 the ship was finally underway.

The Mayflower carried 102 passengers and about 40 crew members crammed into a 150-foot ship. In addition, passengers brought furniture, books, clothing, food and drink for the crossing, seeds, livestock, and even a printing press. It was a very tight fit. (The Pilgrims were eventually to live on board the Mayflower for 8 months.)

The crossing was as bad as had been feared. Many storms shook the ship. Back in Holland, William Brewster (an elder of the church and Bradford's mentor) had been hunted down by English authorities for printing books critical of the Church of England and King James. The authorities did not find Brewster, who was in hiding, but smashed the fonts for his printing press so he could not do any more printing. Now, as the Mayflower was tossed in the ocean, her main beam began to crack. The giant screw from Brewster's press was fitted into position under the beam and bolstered it, keeping the ship from cracking apart! (Bradford had brought the press with him to Holland when he escaped England.) John Howland, a servant of John Carver, was swept overboard in a storm. Miraculously, he was caught in a halyard underwater and was dragged back onto the ship before he drowned.

Bradford makes frequent mention of the importance of the Pilgrims' faith in helping them through their many trials, and it is not hard to see how this small band of faithful would need to rely on their god and each other to survive such harrowing times.

Part IV: The First Year >
< Part II: The Leyden Years


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